In Focus: Smith must get the struggling Canaries flying again

Mitchell Fretton
Dean Smith is back in management with Norwich
Dean Smith is back in management with Norwich

Dean Smith has been handed the task of masterminding Norwich's great escape — but the club's fans could be forgiven for expecting to be back in the Championship next term. 

Smith, 50, was sacked by Aston Villa earlier this month after a 1-0 defeat at Southampton extended a dismal losing run to five Premier League games. 

But the ex-Leyton Orient defender did not have to wait for long before Norwich came calling with the offer of a two-and-a-half-year deal to replace Daniel Farke at Carrow Road. 

With just five points on the board from 11 games, Smith must pick up a team seemingly destined for relegation.

Read on as we take a look at how the former Brentford boss can get the Canaries firing on all cylinders as they attempt to fly clear of the drop zone. 

The tactics

Smith usually takes a fairly traditional approach when setting up a side. 

But after finding success last season using a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, he was criticised for switching to a 5-3-2 for large parts of this campaign, resulting in the club sitting 16th in the table when the axe was dropped. 

Farke also tended to prefer a 4-2-3-1, so the Canaries faithful should not expect radical changes. 

Teemu Pukki is still likely to lead the line as a lone striker, just as Ollie Watkins did at Villa.

Pierre Lees-Melou tended to sit in behind Pukki as a creative midfielder, much like how Smith deployed Emiliano Buendia at Villa Park.

In short, all the signs suggest there will not be a major change in approach when it comes to how the league's basement boys line up. 

Daniel Farke's Norwich compared to Dean Smith's Aston Villa this season
Daniel Farke's Norwich compared to Dean Smith's Aston Villa this season

Utilising loan players

Although Norwich sit bottom of the table — level on points with Newcastle — Smith at least has some talented players at his disposal. 

Billy Gilmour replaced Oliver Skipp as Norwich's star loanee at the start of the season. But the 20-year-old Chelsea midfielder has only featured in four league games this term and rarely made Farke's starting XI. 

Under Smith, the Scotland international could become more of a familiar sight alongside fellow loanee Mathias Normann.

When pressed on why he had not made better use of Gilmour, Farke said: "It is not a gift that we play them because we have loaned them and they want to play many games.

"If they want to be Manchester United, Chelsea or Tottenham players one day, they need to make sure they face this challenge and step up."

Brandon Williams, on loan from Manchester United, has found himself in a similar predicament to Gilmour. 

The full-back, 21, has featured six times in the league this term, suggesting he will not match his 17 appearances for United in 2019-20 — but that could be set to change under Smith. 

Firing up the old guns

Teemu Pukki was Norwich City's top scorer last season
Teemu Pukki was Norwich City's top scorer last season

Todd Cantwell was brilliant for Norwich during their last stint in the Premier League.

The 23-year-old midfielder made 37 appearances in 2019-20, scoring six goals and registering two assists.

Cantwell has appeared only five times for Norwich this season, partly due to injury issues, and Farke was far from impressed before his departure. 

The German said: "Sadly I have to say with Todd the last couple of months I can’t remember one full training week when he was available for all of it.

"The rules are clear for each player. You have to be physically and mentally prepared and show consistency in training and be available."

Pukki, 31, is another who made an impression during Norwich's previous Premier League campaign — but the Finn only has three goals to his name this season.

To stand any chance of keeping his new side up, Smith will need to get the goalscorer closer to his last top-flight tally of 11. 

A tough task ahead

Dean Smith will try to do what Daniel Farke could not
Dean Smith will try to do what Daniel Farke could not

Smith has undoubtedly got a tough task in front of him but nothing is impossible.

Speaking to Sky Sports last week, former Villa captain Richard Dunne suggested the Englishman is better suited to a club with mid-table ambitions. 

He said: "In terms of the job he was asked to do, I think he did well. But it gets to a stage where Aston Villa want to progress.

"They want to be challenging for the top six, they want to move forward, and maybe he has taken them as far as he can."

While the Canaries are highly unlikely to have European aspirations in the near future, Smith can go down in club folklore by keeping them up. 

His high-pressing, attack-minded football will please the fans but the reality is he may have to adapt his approach to pull off what appears to be a case of mission impossible. 


Premier LeagueNorwich City
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